Articles/Biographies/Criminals/Hill, Henry

Henry Hill was born to an Irish father and Sicilian mother in Brooklyn, NY in 1941. The area of Brooklyn he lived in was controlled by the Lucchese capo Paul Vario. From the first time Henry saw Paul and his associates, he wanted to join their criminal enterprise and become a gangster.

Paul's cabstand was just down the street from Henry's apartment and he watched every day as big Cadillacs and Lincolns drove in. The wealth of the people who went in there was made obvious by their platinum watches, gold jewelry, and fearless attitudes. Henry marveled at their ability to park in front of fire hydrants without being ticketed by the police.

At the age of eleven, Henry walked into the cabstand seeking work and was hired on the spot as an assistant. He started out fetching drinks and his parents were thrilled to have extra income in the household since his father was only an electrical worker and was supporting a family six children. Henry's mother, Carmela, was also thrilled that Paulie was from Sicily, just like her. However, Henry began to spend too much time at the cabstand and his father began to resent it, giving him frequent beatings.

Henry started off doing small errands for Paul, eventually graduating to bigger jobs like hijacking trucks from Kennedy Airport. He became well known for his ability to make money out of everything. His charisma and street smarts made him very capable of selling goods stolen from trucks and other sources.

He soon became good friends with James Burke and Tommy DeSimone, two well known mobsters in the Brooklyn area at the time. Despite his skills in crime, Henry could never become a full-fledged mafioso because of his partially-Irish blood. The group often went on missions to steal trucks together. In the evenings, they would play cards, go to clubs, and cruise the town.

Henry joined the army in 1960 and was stationed at Fort Bragg for the following three years. He was a member of a paratrooper unit there and managed to maintain contact with Vario and his other friends in New York the entire time. In 1963, he returned to New York and resumed his life of crime.

Henry met a woman named Karen and eventually married her, having two kids. However, their relationship was troubled because of Henry's gangster habits. Henry would stay out all night playing cards and even go home with other women. Karen had some idea of what was going on, but was unable to change Henry into a family man.

Henry spent hard time in prison for four and a half years after joining his friend James Burke to collect a gambling debt in Florida. The man they roughed up was the brother of a typist for the FBI and it didn't take long for the feds to get wind of it. Being in prison allowed Henry to make excellent contacts in the drug business and start dealing. Although the sentence was for ten years, Henry was released early after Paul Vario set up a fake job for him.

After his release, Henry started a narcotics operation moving cocaine from Brooklyn to Pittsburgh, bringing in huge amounts of money. He did so without Paul's permission and knowledge since it was absolutely forbidden to deal narcotics as a member of the family. Henry started to get hooked on his own cocaine, causing him to be sloppy, eventually resulting in a huge bust that even caused the arrest of his Pittsburgh contacts.

Now that he was caught, Henry was left with a hard decision: run to Paul and likely be killed for disobeying family law, run from the law with his family, or become a government witness. Henry chose the latter option and ratted out Paul Vario along with James Burke, two very highly wanted criminals. By becoming a turncoat he also attracted a lot of negative attention from other gangsters and was forced to go into hiding with his family.

Today, Henry is still alive and well, appearing on talk shows, such as the Howard Stern Show, and writing books. His life was immortalized by Ray Liotta in the movie "The Goodfellas". He was also the subject of a book written by Nicholas Pileggi, which inspired the movie. Most recently, Henry has released a cookbook for wise guys with his favorite Italian recipes.